Butterfly Bush

Garden varieties are less likely to naturalize than the straight species is.

Many plants are so easy to grow that they become invasive weeds. Butterfly bush, Buddleja davidii, has done exactly that in some regions, and is only controlled here by the arid climate. Yet, once established, it does not need much water at all, and can survive on rainfall in some spots. They only want good sun exposure.

Mature plants can get more than 15-feet tall and half as broad, with long arching limbs. Most garden varieties stay smaller, and some do not get much more than six feet tall. The evergreen foliage is sage green, grayish green or chartreuse. The paired leaves are about the size and shape of willow or eucalyptus leaves.

Conical trusses of densely packed tiny flowers that bloom in mid-summer can be various shades of blue, purple, red and pink, as well as dusty white. Some new varieties bloom soft orange or yellowish orange. The more compact and colorful modern varieties are not as fragrant as old classics are.

Fernleaf Yarrow

70830‘Moonshine’ is probably the epitome of fernleaf yarrow, Achillea filipendulina, even though it is technically a hybrid. From the middle to the end of summer, its three inch wide corymbs (flat-topped trusses) of tiny bright yellow flowers stand as high as three feet above ferny and gray basal foliage. Bloom is best in full sun and warm exposure. Established plants do not need too much water.

Most varieties of fernleaf yarrow also bloom with bright yellow or gold flowers. Some might bloom with pale yellow, rosy pink, pale pink, reddish, white or pink and white flowers. All are good cut flowers, and can be dried. Some varieties are more compact. The most compact varieties work nicely in planters of mixed perennials. Butterflies and hummingbirds find them wherever they are.

Pruning out deteriorating blooms may promote sporadic subsequent bloom until autumn. However, some plants may bloom all at once, and then not bloom again until the following summer. Large blooms on the most vigorous plants may need to be staked. New plants can be propagated by division from mature plants. ‘Moonshine’ and many other cultivars are sterile. Others might self sow.

‘Mystic Spires Blue’ Salvia

70705Once it gets started in late spring, ‘Mystic Spires Blue’ salvia has potential to bloom until autumn. It only needs older floral spikes pruned away as they fade (deadheading) to stimulate new bloom. If it gets overworked and lanky without deadheading, it can be cut back in the middle of summer to start a new bloom cycle all over. It can get more than three feet tall and almost three feet broad.

Butterflies and hummingbirds really dig the small rich purplish blue flowers that are tightly packed into the upper foot or so of the floral spikes. These floral spikes tend to lean away from the center of the plant, with the tallest on top leaning collectively in one direction or another. They look like they would be good cut flowers, but they might start to drop their older flowers after only a few days.

The deep green foliage is technically evergreen, but it does not matter. All growth should be cut back to just a few inches above the ground in winter. ‘Mystic Spires Blue’ salvia likes richer soil and a bit more water than what drought tolerant salvias want. Yet, like most salvias, it grows more efficiently as #1 (1 gallon) plants planted as winter ends, than #5. Warm and sunny exposure is best.



61130Here on the West Coast of California, most of us know goldenrod only as a color of crayon. In most other parts of America though, it is a common wildflower that is colorful enough to be popular in home gardens. Yet, with more than a hundred specie, it is hard to say exactly which goldenrod, (Solidago spp.) the crayon color corresponds to. All are some shade of gold or yellow, but some are a bit more orange than others.

Most varieties of goldenrod that are available locally bloom in late summer or autumn. Some are still blooming prolifically now, on seemingly overloaded stems that stand taller than two feet. Shorter types that get only a few inches tall are probably unavailable. Perennial rhizomes spread slowly but surely, and can be divided to propagate new plants. Goldenrod needs full sun exposure, but not much water once established.

The blooms of goldenrod are just as interesting physiologically as they are colorful. The floral trusses of the most popular types are somewhat conical, but arching from their own weight. Each of these trusses supports a profusion of minute daisy-like flowers, which are actually composite flowers comprised of even smaller and more abundant florets! Bees and butterflies really seem to appreciate the floral redundancy!


P71022Before you send me a comment about it, I am already aware that this is a very bad picture. It was taken with my primitive telephone because it was convenient at the time. This tired looking butterfly might not have waited for me to get the camera. It passed away, seemingly peacefully, right there on the hood of the old Chevrolet. It did not seem to be injured in any way. It probably simply expired like butterflies do after breeding. It is a natural process that the butterfly did not seem to be too distressed about. It gets no obituary because I am not qualified to write one. We are not sufficiently acquainted. I do not even know the specie of this butterfly.

Now that he or she is deceased, I ponder the beauty of these insects. They are so graceful and very colorful. They flutter about like animated flowers. Everyone likes them. Some of us grow flowers that attract them to the garden, and plants to sustain their baby caterpillars.

All flowers are designed to appeal to their pollinators of choice. Those that are pollinated by wind lack color, fragrance and other bling, but are very abundant. Those that are pollinated by flies smell like what flies like. Those that want to attract nocturnal pollinators are fragrant, luminescent (with ultraviolet patterns that are invisible to us), and open at night. Bee pollinated flowers use infrared patterns, and lots of other colors that bees like, and reward them with nectar and superfluous pollen. Well, you get the point. Floral structure, size, patterns, color, fragrance and schedule are all designed around pollinators.

It is difficult to say what butterflies like. They visit such a variety of flowers. Some have abundant pollen. Others have a bit nectar. Some are tiny flowers in dense groups. Others are larger composite (daisy-like) flowers. Butterflies can see both infrared and ultraviolet color, so it is hard to know what they see in flowers.

Some of the clustered small flowers that butterflies like are alyssum, fennel, goldenrod, phlox, Queen Anne’s lace, verbena, yarrow and of course, butterfly bush. They also like flower of the mint family, such as bee balm, lavender, oregano, rosemary and the various sages. Their favorite composite flowers include aster, calendula, cosmos, marigold, coneflower, zinnia and all the daisies and sunflowers.